1 News
1 News

PoliticsJune 25, 2020

Live updates, June 25: New poll brings Labour back down to earth; Three new cases in managed isolation

1 News
1 News

For all The Spinoff’s latest coverage of Covid-19 see here. Read Siouxsie Wiles’s work here. New Zealand is currently in alert level one – read about what that means here. For official government advice, see here.

The Spinoff’s coverage of the Covid-19 outbreak is made possible thanks to donations from Spinoff Members. To support this work, join The Spinoff Members here

6.40pm: The day in sum

Three new cases of Covid-19 were detected in managed isolation facilities, one in Rotorua and two in Christchurch.

A record high 10,436 tests were processed by laboratories as the Ministry of Health altered its testing requirements to focus on those at higher risk.

National Party leader Todd Muller labelled health minister David Clark a “disgrace” for refusing to take any responsibility for testing failures at managed isolation facilities.

The popularity of both Labour and its leader Jacinda Ardern dropped nine points in a new 1 News-Colmar Brunton poll. National is up nine, to 38%.

Australian airline Qantas announced it will be cutting 6,000 jobs across both Qantas and Jetstar as it deals with the effects of Covid-19.

6.00pm: New poll shows big dip in Labour’s popularity

A new 1 News-Colmar Brunton poll suggests the government’s dream run is beginning to lag. The poll, the first since Todd Muller became National leader and the shine came off the government’s Covid-19 response, has Labour at 50% (down 9), National at 38% (up 9) and the Greens at 6% (up 1). Despite the nearly double-digit drop in popularity, Labour would still be able to govern alone on these numbers.

Jacinda Ardern is at 54% (down 9 points) in the preferred prime minister polling and Todd Muller is at 13% (up 13).

In the last Colmar Brunton poll for TVNZ just over a month ago, on the eve of Muller’s election to National leader, the top line numbers were:

Labour Party: 59%
National Party: 29%
Green Party: 4.7%
New Zealand First: 2.9%
ACT: 2.2%
Māori Party: 1.2%

In the preferred PM stakes, which proved instrumental in National deciding to topple Simon Bridges in favour of Muller, the numbers were:

Jacinda Ardern: 63%
Simon Bridges: 5%
Judith Collins: 3%
Winston Peters: 1%

5.45pm: 1 News/Colmar Brunton poll tonight

At 6pm 1 News will have the results of its latest Colmar Brunton poll, the first since Todd Muller became National leader and the shine came off the government’s Covid-19 response following revelations of quarantine and managed isolation lapses. We’ll have the results here shortly after six.

4.15pm: Bloomfield fan’s flower plan fails to bloom

Political editor Justin Giovannetti writes from Parliament: Ashley Bloomfield had a tough day yesterday, so a few people decided to buy him flowers. As recounted by The Spinoff’s own Toby Manhire, the government’s most visible official in the response to the coronavirus was thrown under the bus by the health minister on Wednesday afternoon. The minister said the system’s failings were Bloomfield’s and not his own, as a pained-looking director general of health stood silently behind him.

After video of the backstabbing made the rounds of the country, money started flowing into a Twitter user’s bank account to buy flowers for the director general of health. By early afternoon, $1,800 was raised and even opposition health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse said he’d throw in a few bucks. Oddly, Clark told reporters he had nothing to apologise for and reiterated that Bloomfield was responsible, but said he’d also contribute a banknote.

At today’s media conference Bloomfield, blushing at the suggestion he might get flowers, asked that the money go to charity instead. While the Twitter user behind the campaign had suggested buying “a $500 big fuck off bunch of seasonal flowers” and some “vegan cupcakes for his team”, it was announced later that all the money would go to domestic violence support organisation The Aunties and the Shakti Community Council, which provides services for refugees.

3.55pm: Today’s charts

1.50pm: Citizens Advice Bureau put up big numbers during lockdown

The Citizens Advice Bureau says its team of volunteers provided advice and support to over 50,000 people during lockdown. Around 37,000 of those contacted the CAB directly, while the other 14,000 were vulnerable community members the Ministry of Social Development requested the CAB contact to check in on their welfare. This work of staff and volunteers forms the basis of a new report, released to coincide with National Volunteer Week, titled Supporting People Through Covid-19 (PDF).

1.00pm: Three new cases in managed isolation

Three new cases of Covid-19 have been detected in managed isolation, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield has announced. One is in Rotorua and two are in Christchurch.

There is still no community transmission in New Zealand, Bloomfield said.

The Rotorua case is a woman in her 30s who arrived In New Zealand from Peru on the 20th of June. She has been staying in the Ibis Hotel and tested positive after routine testing at day three of managed isolation.

The Christchurch cases are two men – one in his 70s and the other in his 30s – who arrived in New Zealand from India, also on the 20th of June, and have been staying in the Commodore Airport Hotel. They also tested positive after routine testing at day three of managed isolation.

The two Christchurch cases have been moved to a separate quarantine section of the hotel, Bloomfield said, while the Rotorua case has been transferred to the JetPark quarantine facility in Auckland. Any possible contacts of these new cases are being identified and followed up.

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in New Zealand is now 1,169.

Yesterday laboratories completed a record high 10,436 tests, bringing the total number to date to 368,432.

Changes to case definition explained

A recent change to the case definition means no longer will anyone showing symptoms be tested. “We are still expecting and want to see quite wide testing,” said Bloomfield. He said it was not a response to the long lines and wait queues witnessed in recent days. The plan would see “widespread community sentinel testing” continue.

On David Clark and responsibility

About five minutes into the Q&A part of the presser came a series of questions relating to the much-discussed refusal by David Clark to accept any responsibility for the mistakes in the isolation system and the extraordinary television moment captured by Newshub. Asked about his response and his relationship with Clark, Bloomfield’s answers were as follows:

“I don’t have any comment to make about that.”

“I continue to work really closely with and support the minister in his work.”

“I just remain focused on, as I have since the start of this, doing the best possible job I can, and we continue to remain focused on keeping New Zealanders safe. And I just want to give a shout out to my team, who are working incredibly hard to continue doing that, and will keep supporting the minister and all New Zealanders to keep them safe from Covid-19.”

12.45pm: Watch Ashley Bloomfield’s media briefing

11.35am: Qantas cutting 6,000 jobs

Australian airline Qantas has announced it will cut around 6,000 jobs – 20 percent of its workforce – as it becomes a “smaller airline” to deal with the ongoing effects of Covid-19. The jobs cut will include ground and cabin crew as well as head office workers across both Qantas and Jetstar, the Herald reports.

11.30am: Bloomfield media briefing at 1

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield will hold a media briefing at the usual time of 1pm today. He is expected to confirm at least one new case of Covid-19 in New Zealand – the one picked up in a Rotorua managed isolation facility that was mentioned yesterday – and probably face a lot of questions about the state of his relationship with health minister David Clark. You can watch it here from 1.

11.10am: Health minister a ‘disgrace’, says Muller

National Party leader Todd Muller has had a crack at the minister of health David Clark for much-discussed for the bungled border isolation process and throwing director general Ashley Bloomfield under the bus in interviews yesterday. Muller labelled Clark’s “humiliating” treatment of Bloomfield a “disgrace” and said the health minister was “the very definition of a ‘non-essential worker’”, the Herald reports

National Party health spokesperson and body language expert Michael Woodhouse, meanwhile, claims the pair’s body language in the captured by Newshub last night is proof that Bloomfield and Clark have fallen out. “We’ve seen from the body language over the last couple of weeks that the relationship between the minister of health and the director general has deteriorated,” he told Newshub. Bloomfield has denied this is the case.

10.45am: Why Siouxsie Wiles is confident there’s no community transmission in New Zealand

This week both National Party leader Todd Muller and University of Auckland professor Des Gorman have gone on the record saying they suspect Covid-19 is spreading undetected in the community in New Zealand. Microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles, however, disagrees. In a new piece on The Spinoff, she explains why, noting that of the 45,000 tests processed in the last week, the only positive ones have been from people in managed isolation at the border.

Read the full article here

10.15am: Unemployment could already be over 10 percent employment, study suggests

Treasury’s forecast of 10 percent unemployment in New Zealand as a result of Covid-19 may have already been reached, according to research from Victoria University’s Institute for Governance and Policy Studies. A new study released tomorrow found that seven percent of people who had jobs before lockdown had lost them within three weeks. Two percent had managed to gain other work in that time, leaving a net loss of about 130,000. Overall, the study estimates that “the unemployment rate doubled from 5.3 percent immediately before lockdown to 10.3 percent by the third week of lockdown”, Newshub reports

9.00am: Film festival programme announced

The New Zealand International Film Festival has announced its 2020 programme, with selected films to screen in cinemas as well as streaming online. The festival was initially planned to be online-only due to Covid-19, but this month’s move to level one means 27 of the festival’s 79 feature films will now also be shown in venues in eight cities, including Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. The festival will open with Australian film True History of the Kelly Gang. The full programme can be viewed here.

8.00am: Prisoner voting bill passes

Prisoners serving a sentence of under three years will be allowed to vote in September’s election after the prisoner voting bill passed its third and final reading in parliament last night. The bill was supported by the coalition of Labour, the Green Party and NZ First. Justice minister Andrew Little said since anyone serving a sentence of under three years will be out before the next election, “they must have a right to have a say on those running the country that they are about to be released free into.”

7.45am: Testing requirements tightened

New Ministry of Health testing guidelines have removed the requirement for doctors and testing clinics to test anyone with a cough or cold symptom for Covid-19, so they can instead focus on those at higher risk. 

The high risk group includes anyone who has recently:

  • Had contact with an infected person
  • Been overseas
  • Had direct contact with someone who has been overseas
  • Worked on an international aircraft of ship
  • Worked at an airport or isolation facility

Other people with a cold or flu symptom can still be tested, but it will no longer be a requirement, RNZ reports.

The change is expected to help ease the demand for tests as cold and flu season ramps up.

7.30am: Updates from this morning’s edition of The Bulletin

Health minister David Clark has refused to take responsibility for the large number of people released from managed isolation without a Covid-19 test. In an interview with Checkpoint, the guy who was out and about biking during level four described the failings as an operational matter, which means that it falls at the door of Dr Ashley Bloomfield, the director general of health who has spent long stretches of this year as the public face of the response. It’s a point that was made by Clark repeatedly over the day, including an instance captured on video by Newshub in which Bloomfield was standing behind Clark at the time. As Toby Manhire writes, the politics of it are extremely bad for the wider government.

As for more general numbers of how many of those people have been contacted and tested, there is still some way to go. Radio NZ has a useful breakdown of the numbers so far. But on testing numbers generally, there has been a whopping increase here (which presumably is also an operational matter) more than 45,000 tests have been completed around the country since the first new cases last week. The overwhelming majority have come back negative, and there is as yet no evidence of renewed community transmission.

After several days of frantically knifing each other at parliament, you’d be forgiven for thinking the coalition government is on the verge of collapse. The highest profile incident was the news that the process on deciding how to get light rail in Auckland is now off the table, with the NZ Herald reporting that cabinet had given up on trying to get agreement on which competing plan to go with. It doesn’t necessarily mean light rail will never happen, reports Stuff – it is possible a future government could progress it under something much more like the original plan, rather than under a public-private partnership that came into the picture later on. But this current one won’t be doing so. In remarkable consecutive interviews on Newstalk ZB last night, transport minister Phil Twyford and Green co-leader James Shaw both pinned it on NZ First, but also had to take their medicine on failing to get them on board.

As if to underline their independence from the wider coalition, NZ First have inflicted several more quick defeats on their frenemies this week. They’ve refused to support the proposal for hate speech laws. They put the brakes on proposed changes to commercial leases, in the wake of Covid-19. They stalled changes to how rape trials operate, based on concerns raised by defence lawyers. In each case, the party put up reasons for their opposition. But the cumulative effect of a barrage of similar stories creates the impression that they’re no longer interested in allowing anything else through before the election. Such a strategy isn’t exactly new – we’ve now seen several years of it. But it is an escalation.

What’s driving all of this? Politik’s Richard Harman is particularly well informed on these matters, and has speculated that what we’re seeing right now is revenge from NZ First around one of their key projects – the movement of Auckland port operations to Whangārei – not making the speedy progress that they would have liked to see. Among the snubs in this area, the report noted that a proposal to build a floating dry dock in the north was not part of the recently announced list of 11 shovel-ready projects.

NZ First lost another of their own issues, but it was on a relatively peripheral matter. Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin told the NZ Herald (paywalled) that Labour and the Greens had blocked her plans to restrict access to online pornography. In the story, Martin criticised both coalition partners in turn.

Could all of this actually bring the government down? It’s not impossible that we’ll see an early election, even if it is deeply unlikely. Newstalk ZB’s political editor Barry Soper was speculating on air about this very possibility last night, saying it could come over a completely different issue – Ihumātao, and NZ First’s opposition to any public money being put towards a deal. “I am just putting it out there, both NZ First and Labour would probably do better than an earlier election, and if they could force the ballot before then, then I think the cards will play better for them,” said Soper. There’s now less than three months before the election, and it will be fascinating to see how hard the parties of government campaign directly against each other. Perhaps more fascinating is the question of whether they’ll ever be able to work together again afterwards, and act like none of this happened.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.15am: Yesterday’s key stories

One new Covid-19 case was reported in New Zealand – a woman in her 60s who had recently returned from India. This is a separate case to the Rotorua person, who is yet to be officially confirmed.

David Clark refused to accept any responsibility for failures in testing of people granted isolation exemptions, saying it was an operational matter, and one for Ashley Bloomfield.

One of the Rotorua hotels acting as a managed isolation facility went into lockdown, after a positive Covid-19 test was returned by someone staying there.

Auckland light rail plans were killed after “government parties were unable to reach agreement on a preferred proposal”.

Covid-19 testing centres were inundated with people wanting to be swabbed, with wait times of at least two hours.

It was revealed that only four of 55 people who left managed isolation early were tested, despite new rules being in place that they had to be.

New research revealed Covid-19 has led to increased racism towards Asian people but it’s lower in NZ than other countries.

Broadcasting minister Kris Faafoi told MPs the development of RNZ’s new youth music station has been “put to one side” because of the Covid-19 crisis.

It was announced that AJ Hackett Bungy New Zealand will receive $10.2 million of funding as part of the $400 million tourism sector recovery package.

The Reserve Bank held the official cash rate at a record low 0.25%.

Read yesterday’s updates here.

Keep going!